Tawnia Wormell was staring down 40, and she didn't like the way it looked.

Get up. Go to work. Come home. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Go to bed. Repeat.

The pattern had been in place for awhile, but it had begun to feel worse. Wormell survived a deep round of layoffs at StorageTek in Broomfield where she works as a systems engineer, and she was left to struggle with the "survivor's guilt" and a heavier workload.

Her husband wasn't as lucky.

"Things at work had totally changed for the worse," she said. "On top of this, my husband was laid off and finances were stretched. I was stressed and depressed and felt the world was collapsing around me."

And so, driven by a sense of urgency that comes from recognizing that life is short, Wormell began a quest to change her status quo. A journey that, three years later, has landed the now 43-year-old Longmont woman at the beginning of a pro boxing career.

"It was about living life, not waiting to die," said Wormell, whose calm demeanor belies her toughness as a fighter. "I was dying to live life -- I mean really live."

No. 1 fan

Boxing was not the first thing Wormell tried to jump-start her life. In the summer of 2007 she went skydiving twice. In the summer of 2008 she tried bungee jumping, leaping three times from the Bridge to Nowhere in California's Angeles National Forest before jumping off the Royal Gorge Bridge outside Canon City.

The adrenaline felt great, she said, but it didn't stick. So Wormell took up a sport that she'd been fascinated with since she was a teenager, one that would take dedication and work -- a lot of work. Wormell had been to the boxing gym before, but she'd never been serious about fighting.

"The whole thing started as a way to get in shape, but I'd get bored and quit," she said. "I was just there to work out, but I thought, 'Maybe someday I'll fight.'"

Wormell started training to fight, running in the morning, going to work, eating a light dinner, heading to the gym, and, sometimes, heading back to work.

"It's the hardest thing that I've ever had to do, physically, in my life," she said.

But the pressure to schedule her first match mounted last summer, when Wormell learned that her stepfather, Ron Hill, had terminal lung cancer.

"He is my No. 1 fan of my boxing career," she said. "He's the one that introduced me to the world of boxing when I was 15."

It turns out that finding opponents isn't that easy. Women can only box other women in Colorado, and of the more than 330 people registered with the Colorado Office of Boxing as active contestants, only a dozen are female.

And in Wormell's case, the boxing commissioner was hesitant about allowing her to box in a pro fight at all, though she met the requirement of having trained for at least 30 days prior to the event.

"Tawnia had never fought before," said Dave Gaudette, her trainer and owner of Front Range Boxing Academy. "This, and she's 42. She had to prove herself."

Weeks and then months slipped by, all while Hill's health deteriorated. Then finally, early last month, Wormell made her boxing debut in an exhibition fight -- which has shorter and fewer rounds than a pro fight, and where the opponents wear headgear and larger gloves -- against a 25-year-old woman from Wyoming.

And Hill made it there, walking into the Softball Country arena in Denver with his oxygen in tow.

"Everyone expected me to die in June and July, and then it didn't happen," Hill said. "I keep making these goals for how long I'm going to live. And one was Tawnia's fight."

Victory as the 'wench'

When Wormell stepped into the ring on Nov. 6, she did so as the "Tatooed Scottish Wench." Bagpipe music was playing, the crowd was cheering and Wormell was wearing black trunks with red trim and an embroidered Celtic warrior symbol.

And when the bell rang, she came out strong.

"They had to prove that she can actually box," Gaudette said. "And she proved it. She darn near knocked the girl out."

In fact, Wormell's dominance was clear to her opponent, Rachel Griego, as well.

"In the second round, she said, 'I'm done,'" Wormell said.

She wasn't sure what that meant: Was Griego conceding? But in the third round, Griego came out again. Wormell held back, not wanting to destroy a woman she felt she connected with, one female boxer to another.

"I think at the end, she had a little mercy on her," Gaudette said, turning to Wormell. "I should yell at you for that."

Though exhibition fights do not technically have a winner -- at least not one that's marked on the boxer's official record -- Wormell left the ring a winner. And while she was celebrating after the fight with her stepfather and mother, Rosie Hill, a 10-year-old boy came up and asked for her autograph.

She bent down and signed it, "Dying to Live Life -- Live life to the fullest!! Tatooed Scottish Wench."

Women in boxing

While some say the roots of women's boxing can be traced back to staged fights in London during the 1720s, the sport began to become widespread only in the 1990s.

USA Boxing, based in Colorado Springs, welcomed women into its competition circuit in 1993, and the group sponsored the first women's national championship in 1997.

The first women's world boxing championship was held in 2001, with 125 boxers participating from 30 countries. At the 2008 world championship, 218 women competed from 41 countries. In all, the International Boxing Association says there are 500,000 women boxers in more than 120 countries, including at least 2,000 in the United States.

Still, aside from a "display" bout at the 1904 summer games in St. Louis, women have never been allowed to box in the Olympics. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, in fact, boxing was the only one of the 26 official sports that did not include women.

That's changing. In August, the International Olympic Committee voted to allow 36 women to participate in the boxing events at the 2012 summer games in London.

Returning the favor

A few weeks after her debut fight, Wormell was halfway through her third round of sparring at Front Range Boxing out by Foothills Parkway and Pearl Street in Boulder in late November, and she was drained.

After the first two rounds, the trainer gave her sparring partner, 22-year-old Chris Johnson, a break and brought in a fresh fighter, Quentin Miller.

Wormell's arms seemed leaden, and her movements more sluggish.

Gaudette didn't cut her any slack.

"You're not supposed to rest until the bell rings," the 43-year boxing veteran shouted in his usual frenetic cadence, while the boxers circled each other. "You're not tired yet. I'll tell you when you're tired."

Wormell nodded, and redoubled her effort for a few more seconds until the buzzer, mercifully, rescued her.

"Not too bad," Gaudette said as Wormell leaned into the corner of the ring. "Not too bad for taking all that time off and eating all that ice cream."

It had been three weeks since Wormell had won the bout against Griego. And "all that time off" really meant that, since her fight, she'd been skipping her daily two-mile runs and hitting the gym just two times a week instead of six.

Now Wormell was at the gym to return favors. She wanted to help the fighters who had helped her train for her own fight -- all twenty-something men -- train for theirs.

"Anybody that you can spar with helps you get better," said Oscar Martinez, 23. "Everybody that's trying to fight, we're like a team. Even though we hit each other in the face, it's just like siblings. You fight, and then it's all lovey-dovey."

The guys are scheduled to fight next weekend, and then the tables will turn again. Wormell is tentatively scheduled to box in her first women's pro fight at the end of January, again at Softball Country. To prepare, she's already back in the gym and running six days a week, taking only Saturdays off, but she'll rely on her sparring partners to really be ready.

It's a brutal schedule, but she thinks she can keep it up a while longer.

"I've committed myself to two years," she said. "I'll be 45 by then, and it's probably smart to lay off being hit in the head."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or sniderl@dailycamera.com.